There is a general fascination with angelic beings which has been a mainstay of the human experience since Adam and Eve were marched out of the Garden of Eden by the Cherubim with the flaming sword. We can imagine the children of our first parents continually requesting just a bit more information on what these mighty angels looked like and how they came to be in their presence. We can hear it now… “Dad tell us again about the flaming sword!” As difficult as it may have been for Adam to recount that particular story, the truth is that each one of us lives in intimate proximity with the angelic host every day of our lives. When we test this reality by asking friends to relate an experience where they felt there had been an angelic intervention, many are able to articulate it with a sense of certainty and clarity.
The natural curiosity about angels is notably strong in young children whose imagination is beautifully primed to accept this reality with wonder and a sense of awe and which is especially sensitive during the early years of their spiritual formation. In our modern day where the secular portrayal of angels is put forward in a confusing and even deceptive manner, it is so important that parents and teachers utilise the right means at their disposal to teach children about the great gift that angels are to us humans.
Specifically, we need to teach our children that God Himself has assigned them with a guardian angel whose role it is to guide and look after them on their journey to heaven. And what a beautiful gift this is!
- Helping children to visualise what angels ‘look like’
Young children are very visual and we know that they can spend hours poring over books which carry strong illustrative content. We know too that angels are spiritual beings who don’t have bodies, but being human beings ourselves, it is normal for us to portray these spiritual creatures through artistic means so that we can interact with them more deeply by way of our faculties of sense.
In helping our children to develop a healthy understanding of their guardian angel, we do well to expose them to images that portray the reality of who angels are, what they do, and even what they ‘say’. Google the term “guardian angel” and immediately we find an image of an angel leading two young children over a bridge and away from the danger of the roaring water and the dark forest from which they have just emerged. This portrayal of an angel’s role as guide and guardian is a good start but if we were to leave it at that, this image could become slightly fluffy or even unreal as children enter into their teenage years. Enter here the artwork of Howard David Johnson.
Howard Johnson specialises in angelic representation. In the main, the majority of his inspiration is taken from Scripture and provides parents with a ready source of imagery with which to build up a healthy appreciation and understanding of the strength and power that God has endowed angelic beings with. To share this imagery with a young child and to then explain to them that they too have an angel guardian by their side at that very moment waiting to assist them in their everyday ups and downs, can really make a strong impression on their lived reality.
We want our children to believe without a shadow of a doubt that angels are real, and powerful, and are here to help them personally. We want to see their faces light up and to hear them say “wow…. that is so awesome!!”
- Encouraging children to read stories about angels
When we search for the word ‘angel’ in Scripture we find it mentioned directly around 315 times. Add to this figure the words Cherubim and Seraphim as well as the mention of principalities, powers, choirs, and dominions, all of which are terms relative to angels, the number moves closer to 400! The point here is that there is no shortage of stories in the Bible with which to share with our children the reality and splendor of angels.
The story at the very top of the pile is obviously that of the Annunciation where the angel Gabriel announced to Mary the plan of God for our salvation. When we read St Luke’s Gospel and then align the words of Scripture with the great artwork which has beautifully portrayed this pivotal moment down through time, the reality of the angel Gabriel as well as the truth he was given to bear becomes ever so real to the young child and becomes embedded in both their mind and heart. Think here of the great works of Da Vinci, Murillo, and Fra Angelico!
We can do the same with the story of St Michael the Archangel from the books of Daniel and Revelation, and again with St Raphael from the Book of Tobit. We can also apply the words which angels speak in Scripture to our own lives. For example from the Book of Judges… “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valour.” Or again, the first words that St Gabriel spoke to Our Lady… “Rejoice, you who enjoy God’s favour.” Invite your children to hear these words as if they were spoken to them personally by God’s special messengers!
Besides the Word of God, we can also read the testimony of the saints who have often formed wonderful friendships with their own guardian angels. One such example was Blessed Anna Maria Taigi (1769– 1837) a wife and mother to seven children. Blessed Anna did everything in the presence of and in conversation with her guardian angel often sending the angel in her stead to the sick in need of comfort and even to assist those who required protection during times of temptation. By sharing a story such as this with our children, we can help them to realise that we need to cultivate a lived relationship with our guardian angels where we are proactive in inviting them to participate in all facets of our daily life.
- Praying to Our Guardian Angels
In essence, prayer is an act of communication. It is a giving and receiving. We speak and then we listen or we listen and then we speak in response. Ongoing communication is at the heart of building up a relationship with our guardian angel just as it is at the heart of building up our relationship with Jesus and Mary and all the other saints. If we don’t communicate, how are we supposed to come to know one another as special friends?
The first thing we can do in this regard is to make sure that praying to our guardian angel is part and parcel of our daily routine. The ‘Angel of God my guardian dear…” prayer should be on our children’s lips as we start and finish our days. We can encourage our children to ask their guardian angels to help them especially in times of decision making. A common prayer often used by parents is to ask their guardian angel to help them find a parking spot on a busy shopping day. The key point here is that a guardian angel is a true friend and is on call to assist us in all manner of human experiences and even something as mundane as shopping!
Let us close with an instructive story from the life of St Faustina. In her Diary, she recounts an occasion where her guardian angel encouraged her to pray for the dying. St Faustina followed this inspiration and immediately did so. As it turned out, a sister from her own order but in another location, died at that very time and most likely had a share in the prayer that the guardian angel had encouraged St Faustina to pray.
Maybe our children will never have such an explicit experience of their guardian angel communicating to them in this manner. Nevertheless, we need to assure them that their guardian angels are always trying to communicate to them be it through thoughts that enter their minds, images that come into their imagination, or even feelings that are expressed via their emotions. We also need to assure them that their prayers to their angel guardians are always heard no matter how small or trivial they may seem to be.
Our guardian angels are always at our side and are always at the ready to prompt, guide and listen to us even if we can’t see them physically or hear the words they are forever whispering into our ears.
For more information about the angels, visit the Opus Angelorum website
Steven Buhagiar is the team leader of the Sydney archdiocese’s Life, Family and Outreach Office.